Honduras will hold its presidential elections on November 24, and voters—for the first time in this Central American country’s history—might elect a female and openly socialist president, signaling the nation’s growing frustration with its male-dominated conservative leadership.
Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, representing the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE), was slated as the frontrunner in several preliminary polls conducted in September that monitored intended votes in the upcoming election. She earned 29 percent of votes in a CID-Gallup survey, followed by Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party in second place with 27 percent; and she earned 22.8 percent of votes in an Encuestadora Paradigma study, followed by Hernández with 21.9 percent, according to the Huffington Post.
The political novice has captured the attention of Hondurans around the world with calls for the establishment of a constituent assembly and nationalization programs aimed at redistributing the country’s highly concentrated wealth. She is the wife of former President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was forcibly removed from office in a 2009 coup d’état after being accused of violating the constitution by scheduling a referendum on proposed constitutional reforms.
The military coup, which was orchestrated by members of both the Partido Nacional (National Party) and the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party)—the two dominant political parties in the country—was followed by the interim de facto rule of Partido Liberal member Roberto Micheletti and the subsequent election of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who belongs to the Partido Nacional.
Honduras has been plagued for decades by economic inequality, violent crime and the political persecution of journalists who criticize the government, but these problems have intensified since 2009.
The country had the highest per capita homicide rate in the world for two consecutive years under the Lobo administration. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Study on Homicide, there were 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, and according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, there was a total of 7,172 murders committed in 2012.
In addition, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least three journalists were killed in direct relation to their work which criticized the post-coup government’s policies. Twelve other journalists were killed in unclear circumstances, but their murders appear to be motivated by similar reasons.
But post-coup Honduras has also witnessed the rise of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (National Popular Resistance Front)—a leftist coalition of civil society organizations that continue to protest the removal of Zelaya—as well as the Frente’s political arm, the Partido Libre. The rise of both groups has managed to usher in a newfound sense of political consciousness in a country once dismissed as an apathetic and submissive “banana republic.”
Many Hondurans believe that both the Partido Liberal and the Partido Nacional represent stalwart conservatism, militarism and the exploitation of the country’s resources. Now, as Castro de Zelaya campaigns on egalitarian economic development policies and the integration of traditionally marginalized communities across the country, many Hondurans are clamoring against the two-party-dominated system and rallying around Castro de Zelaya.
Other third-party candidates—including Salvador Nasralla (Partido Anti Corrupción—Anti-Corruption Party), Romeo Vásquez Velásquez (Partido Alianza Patriótica—Honduran Patriotic Alliance) and Andrés Pavón (Frente Amplio Político Electoral en Resistencia—Broad Political Electoral Front in Resistance)—have also received increasing media attention for their campaigns against the traditional two-party system. However, Castro de Zelaya continues to dominate the polls.
Overall, Castro de Zelaya’s emergence as the leading candidate in the presidential elections represents a shift in the country’s prevailing political ideology after her husband’s removal from office in the 2009 coup. The thought of electing a female and openly socialist president might have been an abstract notion to many in pre-coup Honduras, which has historically been the most conservative country in Central America.
Even if Castro de Zelaya is not elected, constituents will continue to demonstrate against the current leadership and promote her party, her platforms and her ideas as the country struggles to dust off decades of foreign exploitation, crime and inequality
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.